Trump confuses nationalism with patriotism, brings out the worst in us

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In September 2006, in a tiny tavern off Route 61, some old friends and I claimed a dozen seats around a bar shaped like a baseball diamond and ordered rounds. Come midnight, Laura and I were the only ones left.

“Let’s finish this one and cab it home,” Laura said, but then a soft light rose over the bar (was it closing time?) and the place went noticeably quieter. The bartender, guitar in hand, pulled up a stool across the bar from Laura and me and adjusted a microphone.

Figuring we were in for a treat, we stayed put.

“He calls it The Watermelon Song,” said the drunk guy three stools down, raising his beer in mock salute. “Bartender’s good, writes his own stuff.”

Next thing the crowd is chanting, “Watermelon! Watermelon! Watermelon!” and the bartender/singer has started up, “There’s … a … n***er in the watermelon patch …” The whole place erupted, singing right along.

We could not make out every word, but there was something about how you can always find the n***ers in the watermelon patch, and if you’re good enough with a shotgun it’s just like target practice, and then there was something about New Orleans and how those n***ers down there better think twice before coming up here to our town, looking for refuge, then boom!, back to the refrain.

It was one year after Hurricane Katrina. Laura and I sat there, stunned.

A decade later, the existence of The Watermelon Song is a lot less stunning.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, President Donald J. Trump is playing his greatest hits to rabid cheers. He locks-in on a new target: professional, black athletes taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police shootings of black men, in protest of racial injustice.

“Wouldn’t you love to see,” the president crows to his mostly-white crowd, “one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”

Professional men, reduced to sons-of-bitches. I am reminded of Clint Smith’s poem, “Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class.”

If you’re successful
it is because of affirmative action.
If you fail it is because
you were destined to.
You are invisible until
they turn on the Friday
night lights. Here you are —
star before they render
you asteroid. Before they
watch you turn to dust.

Like the songwriting bartender in that tiny tavern off Route 61, our nationalist president knows his audience. He turns everything, even their sports stars, their heroes, to dust. And yet, they cheer.

The president does this, mistakenly, under the guise of patriotism. He does not understand, nor do his crowds, that patriotism and nationalism are diametrically opposed concepts.

As Timothy Snyder writes in his book, On Tyranny, a “nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us we are the best … endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge.”

At an invitation-only speech at Georgetown Law School, Attorney General Jeff Sessions carried the president’s message forward, suggesting NFL players come up with more palatable means to bring attention to their issues of racial injustice than “denigrating the symbols of our nation.”

We kneel in prayer; we kneel when making the sign of the cross; we kneel in reverence. What is more palatable, more peaceful, than a man on bended knee?

Days later, the president refuses to let it go, tweeting, “The booing at the NFL football game [Monday] night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.”

What kind of president encourages great anger?

As if in lockstep, Paul Smith, a volunteer fire chief in Pennsylvania, posted on Facebook that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, “just added himself to the list of no-good n*ggers” for choosing to remain off the field during Sunday’s national anthem.” And he refused to apologize.

Our nationalist president encourages us to be our deplorable worst. “America has a racial demagogue as president,” writes conservative Michael Gerson. “We play hail to this chief. We stand when he enters the room. We continue to honor an office he so often dishonors.”

Turns out Hillary Clinton was right. There is a basket of deplorables.

Deplorables use the n-word without shame. Deplorables march with torches and chant, “Jews will not replace us.” Deplorables scream “Lock her up!” and taunt reporters who have been penned like animals. Deplorables excoriate black men who take a knee to exercise their First Amendment Rights. Deplorables roundly boo war hero and former POW John McCain.

Deplorables are proud to know all the words to The Watermelon Song. And they have a president. His name is Donald J. Trump.

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The Un-American

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Come 3:44 a.m. Sunday, after a full 48 hours on the attack, the president refused to let it go.

“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” he tweeted.

From his golf club in Bedminster, NJ —his 64th day at a golf course in 8 months in office — as our fighter jets scrambled along the edge of the DMZ, the president threw one of his characteristic Twitter-tantrums, going after black athletes in the NFL, an NBA superstar, Sen. John McCain, and North Korea’s leader.

So much for Chief of Staff John Kelly’s efforts to ratchet down the rhetoric and bring order.

Saturday morning, one of the NBA’s brightest stars woke to an unprovoked attack from his president. “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

The president then echoed his fiery speech in Alabama the night before. “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…….our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

I have news for the president. Quietly choosing to pass on a visit to the White House is not un-American. Silently taking a knee during our National Anthem, a First Amendment right, is not disrespectful to our country or the American flag.

What is un-American and disrespectful?

1. Dodging the draft.

2. Watching white supremacists march with torches in American streets while insisting some of them are “very nice people.”

3. Brandishing any flag that stood in opposition of our stars and stripes, and lost.

3. Denigrating Sen. John McCain, lifelong public servant and former prisoner-of-war, simply because he disagrees with a proposed healthcare bill.

4. Knowingly propagating a lie (for 7 years) that our first black president was not an American.

5. Asserting that law-abiding, black athletes should be thankful for “the privilege of making millions of dollars.” The privilege? Did these Americans not work tirelessly all their lives to earn those dollars?

Most troubling and, frankly, terrifying, President Trump seems immune to the sage advice of his own intelligence experts and senior military advisers.

As reported on Sep. 22 in The Los Angeles Times, “Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire. But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.”

Evan Osnos, senior foreign policy analyst at The New Yorker, recently highlighted a horrifying statistic. President Trump and Kim Jung Un, both of whom are spoiling for a fight, have only 7 years of experience between them.

From a posh golf club in Bedminster, NJ, at 3:44 a.m., a 71 year-old political novice tweets ill-advised threats at a dangerous regime and law-abiding Americans.

Maybe the president is the one who needs to take a knee.

The Fire and Jemele Hill

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My childhood friend tells a story. Her dad was having coffee with his buddies, down at the diner in south side, when one of them glanced out the smudged plate glass and yelled, “Get a fire extinguisher! Hey Donny, your truck’s on fire.”

Sure enough, small flames curled across the truck’s back window, the window draped with Donny’s now-burning Confederate Flag.

A cook ran out with an extinguisher to douse the flames and, while the flag was a total loss, lucky for Donny not much harm was done to his truck. But he was hoppin’ mad. Some n****r did this, he kept yelling, and he was gonna call the police, by God, and file a report!

Until, as my friend tells it, already laughing, the police car rolled up and two black cops got out. “Dad’s buddies gave him guff about that one for years,” she says.

How many of us have heard stories like this? The my-dad/uncle/grandpa-is-just-a-sweet-old-bumbling-southerner stories that everybody laughs at and nobody calls out, because hey, old Donny’s set in his ways. But of course he’s no racist.

The president has his ways, too, and nobody wants to call him out, even as he doubles-down with his stance on racism in this country, and Charlottesville.

On a Sep. 15 trip to Florida, where he was to spend the day meeting with victims of Hurricane Irma and surveying the mass devastation, the president went back to talking about Charlottesville, where a woman was killed by a white supremacist.

“If you look at what’s going on there,” the president said, “you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also. Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville — a lot of people are saying — in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have a point.”

The president does not only have a problem with calling out hate groups, he has a problem admitting that he was wrong about Charlottesville, and so he continues, a good month later, to scramble in justifying his original position.

A position that is, unarguably, wrong.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for the firing of ESPN’s Jemele Hill, a black sports anchor who posted on her personal Twitter account, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

Ms. Hill was publicly shamed and reprimanded by ESPN. She was forced to issue an apology. But that was not, it seems, enough for the White House, with the president tweeting, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!

And from behind her podium with the presidential seal, Ms. Sanders piled on—“That’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense.”—calling for the firing of Ms. Hill, a private citizen.

As misfortune would have it, another prominent woman also made headlines within hours of Ms. Hill for calling out the president. In her answer to a question about white supremacists in Charlottesville, blonde, ivory-skinned, beauty contestant Miss Texas said without pause, “I think that the white supremacist issue was very obvious, that it was a terrorist attack and I think that President Donald Trump should have made a statement earlier, addressing the fact and in making sure all Americans feel safe in this country. That is the number one issue right now.”

The audience cheered Miss Texas. You go girl! One headline read, “Miss Texas blasts Donald Trump, wins fans everywhere.”

Funny. Unlike with Ms. Hill, no one called for the firing of Miss Texas. No one requested an apology. Not even the president’s press secretary, or the president himself.

We can go along, like we do, pretending the president is just a sweet old 71 year-old, set in his ways. We can fly our Confederate Flags and pretend they are about “southern pride” and not about intimidation and supremacy, about showing who owns this country, who gets fired, and who does not.

Or we can start calling it like we see it.

Ms. Hill, like all Americans, has the First Amendment right to speak her mind, to call out the president when he continues to insist there are “pretty bad dudes” on both sides.

And maybe, like that offensive flag flying in the back window of Donny’s truck, it’s time we stop waiting for the fire by laughing it off.

Shine on, Trump voters, shine on

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Rest easy, Trump voters. Eight months into the Trump presidency, everything is fine. Your longterm future shines bright.

Democrats remain in post-election disarray, concocting meaningless slogans like “A Better Deal,” gloating over a three-month deal with the president, and bickering amongst themselves while Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton take their book tours on the road.

This should be good news for Republicans, but they have little to cheer about. Party leaders McConnell and Ryan have been rendered impotent by their own president, and the far-right Freedom Caucus continues to muck up the gears as moderates like Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent throw up their frustrated hands and retire from service.

Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, the president’s primary advisor both during and after the campaign, said his goal was to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

Was that just a fancy way of saying “destroy our democracy?”

I mean, who cares if Russia interfered in our election, am I right? Trump won and then went about dismantling the cyber security agency that might investigate such a thing and keep it from happening again.

Russia Russia Russia. We are so very bored, bored senseless it turns out, with all things Russia.

But everything is fine.

The president’s 30-something daughter and her husband have offices in the West Wing. Born into blistering wealth and with zero experience at governing, they serve as senior advisors to the president. We are so lucky. I know I sleep better at night knowing that, if the red phone rings at three a.m., Ivanka and Jared are right there handy.

Nazis and white supremacists march down our streets carrying torches and Confederate flags, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” But they are well-dressed Nazis, bless their hearts, in pressed khakis and white polos. Good people, the president says, on all sides.

There’s the travel ban, the Muslim ban, the transgender-in-the-military ban, and the ban on Dreamers because all men, it seems, are no longer created equal, no matter that pesky opening line in the Declaration of Independence.

We love a ban, so long as you don’t ban the thing we love most in the whole wide world: GUNS.

Everything is fine, just fine.

Politicians with no science background have been nominated and/or put in charge of agencies like the Department of Energy, which houses our nuclear program, and NASA, which makes perfect sense because who in their right mind would put scientists in charge science?

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has eliminated almost 2,000 web pages of public information on subjects like (that hoax known as) climate change and stopped collecting data on oil and gas emissions. I’m sure companies like Exxon Mobile will choose, out of the goodness of their hearts, our health over profits when they get the chance.

And let’s not forget the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, a man who described his jail as a concentration camp, where he refused to look into hundreds of sex-crime cases of underage girls, where a woman was forced to give birth in handcuffs, and where prisoners often died in heat that could reach 130 degrees.

Sheriff Joe, friend of the president and fellow birther, the law-and-order man convicted by the courts of defying … wait for it … the law.

Mexico ain’t payin’ for The Wall and Crooked Hillary won’t ever be locked up, but boy howdy isn’t the president doing a bang-up job of making America great again?

In the upcoming October issue of The Atlantic, David Frum writes, “The thing I got most wrong is that I did not anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump operation.”

The thing I got most wrong? How ineffective our Congressional checks and balances would be, how gullible Trump voters would remain, and how quickly everyday Americans would throw up their hands.

Trump 2020 is alive and well, and already winning.

Broken American Home

 

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Jim Morin – The Miami Herald

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One night in late-summer, long after we’d finished supper on our screened porch with my visiting dad and stepmother, I heard Dad say with blunt force, “Want to know why your mom and I got divorced?”

I was 31. They’d been divorced 23 years. “No, actually, I don’t,” I said. Crickets sawed their songs like a chorus in the near woods as I stacked our dirty plates and checked a swelling urge to tell him that I knew, of course I knew, had always known, about her and about him.

Newsflash: the kids always know.

On my darkened porch, Dad took an extra-long drag off his Marlboro, and the familiar glow of ashes lit his frustrated face. “On that note,” I said, pushing back my patio chair, “I’m going to bed. Sleep well. See y’all in the morning.”

If you grew up in a broken home, you likely recognize this scene and others like it. Our American family feels broken in much the same way, punctuated with exclamation points in the president’s Twitter feed as he says, Let me tell you my side of the story! while dismantling our lives.

Brick by brick, President Trump is trying to tear down what Mr. Obama built. The trade deal? Canceled. The climate pact? Forget it. Cuba? Partially reversed. Health care? Unresolved, but to be repealed if he can navigate congressional crosscurrents…. Mr. Trump has made clear that if it has Mr. Obama’s name on it, he would just as soon erase it from the national hard drive.”

Obama leaving the presidency to Trump feels like mom left, Dad got the house, and we are all helplessly stuck there with him and his jealous rage, watching as he tears down everything she ever built. Just to spite her.

On his Labor Day weekend trip to the hurricane-ravaged south, the president started off praising relief efforts but, as usual, devolved into a chance to mock the media. “I hear the Coast Guard saved 11,000 people, almost 11,000 people, by going into winds that the media would not go into.”

The media, who went into the winds and reported from helicopters and rescue boats. The media, who stood for days in e-coli-infested waters to bear witness to the suffering and devastation. Local media, who left their families and drowning homes and waded through miles of flooding to do their jobs.

All as their president mocked them.

He can’t seem to help himself. Vengeance overwhelms. It’s like he’s screaming, “Want to know why your mom and I got divorced?!” on a never-ending loop as we push back our patio chairs, exhausted by the president’s constant need to lay blame everywhere but at his own feet.

In Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, as flood waters refuse to abate, toxins poison the water, and communities struggle to put themselves back together, the president is doubling-down on disaster, announcing his intent to shut down DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), an Obama program to protect immigrant children.

His inexplicably cruel and untimely announcement comes as the body of 31 year-old Alonso Guillen, a DACA recipient, washes ashore, four days after he drowned while volunteering to rescue fellow, stranded Americans.

By all accounts, DACA is a success. The average recipient came to this country at age six, none have criminal records, 91% are employed, and they pay $500 to renew their status every two years, amounting to $800M in revenue.

DACA’s downfall rests on a singular fact: it was Obama’s idea and, therefore, must be decimated.

DACA children, much like the children in a broken home, are left to watch in fear, powerless, as one vengeful parent uses them to teach the other a lesson.

On a late-summer day, the president, anxious to get out his side of the story, tweeted, “After reading the false reporting and even ferocious anger in some dying magazines, it makes me wonder, WHY? All I want to do is #MAGA!”

Newsflash, Mr. President. We know the story. We are living it.

The question is, do you know the damage your constant, divisive rhetoric inflicts upon our broken American family? And more importantly, do you have the capacity to care?

For Whom I’m Praying

 

Sturbuck Community Church

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I regularly receive angry mail from religious leaders chastising me for writing about our president. These letters are most always from older white men.

Today I received this note from a local Methodist pastor:

I could assume you are one of the democratic “Trump haters” in which case the president can do nothing that would please you. I am sorry you feel the way you do and that you would consider publishing such a mean piece about our president. I wonder how such a beautiful lady (picture) could have such “bad” thoughts. Why don’t you join many of us in praying for our president.
____________

To all those who write, I say this:

Dear Pastor,

I pray for the handicapped reporter our president mocked from the stage.

I pray for the woman about whom our then-60 yr old president said, “I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”

I pray for all of the women about whom he referred when saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussyy. You can do anything.”

I pray for the gold star parents he smeared.

I pray for all Americans threatened and persecuted by hate-groups, like those who marched in Charlottesville with torches and chants like “Jews will not replace us,” who feel emboldened by this administration.

I pray for the the mother of Heather Heyer, her daughter a victim of domestic terrorism, whom the president could not be bothered to call with condolences for 5 long days.

I pray for those elderly and uneducated students of Trump University who were sold a scam and lost thousands of dollars in order to line the president’s pockets.

I pray for refugees, most of whom are women and children, escaping persecution whom the president insists on barring from the safe harbor of this great country.

I pray for the people of Texas and the gulf coast, every person and living being in the flood plane who needs water, food, shelter, and good care, and that the president corrects his current lapse-of-care for their needs.

I pray for our military troops and commanders, as they work for a man who claims he knows more than they do.

I pray for freedom of the press.

I pray for the courage of Congress, the rule of law, and the survival of our democracy.

And most fervently, I pray for Robert Mueller and his team.

Thank you for writing.

‘America First’ looks more like ‘Trump First’

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We no longer need to wonder how the president will respond to his first national crisis. In the days following the white supremacy march on Charlottesville, and the first terrorist attack on his watch, President Trump’s leadership skills and moral authority came down to one phone call.

How long did it take him to call the victim’s, Heather Heyer’s, mother? The answer: five days. Five long, unconscionable days before the president could be bothered to offer condolences to the mother of a 32 year-old victim of domestic terror.

The president also did not attend Ms. Heyer’s funeral. He did not offer to give the eulogy. He did not use his words to comfort the Charlottesville community or the country. The president chose this time of national crisis to, predictably, rant defensively during a press conference.

Is this what America First looks like?

Many Americans voted for Trump’s America First pledge and in spite of his lewd and derisive rhetoric. They voted for him because they wanted a businessman, a non-politician, to run the country. They voted for him because they saw in him a fighter who would, in turn, fight for them. Some simply voted against Hillary Clinton, saying they did not trust her and worried she might spend her presidency under FBI investigation.

We have been made fools on all counts.

The president is under investigation.

The president fights, but mostly for his own self-preservation. He fights daily, and in public, with members of his own party, including his senate majority leader. “McConnell is outraged that Trump refuses to learn about governing, and continues to attack his own party’s senators. Trump is blaming McConnell for not protecting him from the Russia investigation.”

Most ironically, Trump does not bring any solid business acumen to the executive branch because he never ran a company with production standards, nor has he ever been held accountable to a board of directors or stockholders. And though he claims to be a master negotiator, the best dealmaker, he simply strong-arms and threatens.

“Do what I want or else” is not dealmaking or negotiating. It is bullying.

And for a man who ran for president as a non-politician, he continues to spend most of his time running for office. During his 2020 campaign rallies, which began exactly one month after his inauguration, he whines about the media (“CNN is so bad and so pathetic and their ratings are going down”), calls his perceived enemies names (“Little George Stephanopolous”), and tosses around the same, old, tired red-meat lines (“Build the wall, fake news, lock her up”) to fawning, cult-like crowds.

As conservative Joe Scarborough described his latest rally in Phoenix, “It was a hateful, derisive speech. It was a frightening speech.”

In his brilliant, unflinching book covering the 2016 campaign, Jared Yates Sexton nails down the substance which infuses the president’s style. “This kind of hatred, this back-against-the-wall mentality, is the feeling of raw panic that Fox News and its predecessors and contemporaries have sought to cultivate for the last 40-some-odd years. Every election is one more opportunity to stop the growing fascist momentum of liberalism, a last chance to slow the rising tide of immigrants and moochers and enemies of the state before they finally kill off the Constitution and come for your family.”

It is no accident that the president, now the most savvy of politicians, gets most autocratic, animated and passionate when he is free from the teleprompter, playing to that “feeling of raw panic” in his crowds, stoking division and maniacal rage from the rally stage.

Is this presidential? Is this leadership?

At his most recent campaign stop in Arizona, the president did not visit, mention, or offer thoughts and prayers for the state’s senior Sen. John McCain, a war hero who has served this country for decades and who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for one of the most insidious forms for brain cancer.

We need the president to call upon his better angels, though we have to wonder, seven months in, if such angels exist.

The president did not call Heather Heyer’s mother for five days. She was not his priority. We are not his priority. We no longer have to wonder how he will respond in a crisis.

The Trump Train has jumped the tracks. How can any honorable American remain on board?